Retailers can beat tougher economic times with the basics

by Becky Gillette

Published: February 25,2008

For some time, most small businesses have been looking for every way to cut or better control their operating expenses due to the ever-increasing and burdensome costs of insurance, transportation, labor, utilities, property taxes, security, advertising and the ever-growing list of other necessary business expenses.

Now their bottom line is also threatened by the critical need to creatively increase sales to overcome their customers’ intensified personal and family dollar-stretching.

“Everyone’s dollar is not going very far these days, and there’s more competition than ever for every purchase,” said Ron Aldridge, Mississippi state director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “And consumers are savvy to know how to wait on a discounted sale period, which always seem to be just a few days away or just around the corner.”

Statistics show 6% to 7% of the U.S. population is in the process of starting a small business at any given time. That competition has especially intensified with so many making purchases on the Internet. Small business owners are also feeling the pinch with their own personal family budget belt-tightening, thus compounding the problem.

“There’s obviously no quick fix to increase sales, but what’s always been important is still important — a good product, good customer service and good marketing and advertising,” Aldridge said. “One other element is still also very critical — business location. But in this international sales environment brought on by the relatively secure Internet, worldwide payment systems and a reliable worldwide private delivery system, the right location continues to be on the move. As a result, there are many more, yet very basic, ways to expand one’s sales. One of those is to expand your product market beyond your physical storefront to the worldwide Web.”

Opportunities multiplying

On eBay alone, approximately a year ago it was estimated that more than 724,000 entrepreneurs earned their primary or secondary source of income from this online store. These opportunities are continuing to multiply. Aldridge said it doesn’t matter what size town your business is in for a customer base with the world purchasing market now able to peer into your e-store window from most anywhere.

“The Internet is a great way to expand your product base and showroom floor by letting someone else warehouse it and you sell it, have it drop-shipped to your customer and, best of all, avoid Mississippi’s outdated and unfair inventory tax which needs to be repealed,” Aldridge said.

Marketers are taking the giant mall concept and creating another growing trend. They’re co-locating several business ideas within one business facility that’s generally used by most everyone, the gas station and the grocery store, making maximum use of the one-stop-shopping venue.

“The mall is downsizing into one storefront with many facets and curbside parking appeal for today’s drive-thru mentality, on-the-go customers,” Aldridge said. “This same idea is being utilized by many specialty shops, which always like to have something unique and different from their usual line of goods or services. Who would have ever thought you’d find appliance stores selling mattresses or dress shops selling cheese straws, but it’s becoming commonplace. Made in Mississippi products are becoming more and more of a hot trend item in any type retail environment as we’re continuing to swell with pride for our state.”

Whatever your product or service line is, there’s another business already in place that may help you market some of what you sale as lagniappe, an unexpected bonus to their customer. Everyone wants to be unique in some way, and your product may be just what they need.

That personal touch

“Everyone still loves personalized service and Mississippians are known for it,” Aldridge said. “Mississippi hospitality is the best. We need to accent what we’re best at in growing our sales. Our speedy electronic age gives us another opportunity with the ability to communicate with our customer base as frequently as we want or they can stand, as well as a constant way to say thank you for their business and make every advertising piece personal.

“It’s also very cost-effective. And it’s a great way to follow up with your customers on how they like your product and what next you can be on the look-out for their next purchase or provide them a personalized discount coupon. Every customer deserves to be made special.”

Asking your current loyal customer base for not only their e-mail and cell phone info is a must, but also ask them for a list of their closest friends. Who wouldn’t want to help their friend find a great deal on a certain product they’ve been wanting to purchase? It also becomes a research tool to find out what other products your customers are looking for, so you can add them to your inventory. A business owner doesn’t have to wait for a customer to walk in the store anymore to see what will sell.

Targeted approach

He adds that since the vast expanse of publications and advertising locations in which to choose to promote your business is sometimes mindboggling, be sure to target your customer base. If you’re trying to sell to young people, visit places they go to and see what they’re reading or watching. One of the newer venues is in movie theaters just prior to watching the movie.

“Every small business owner armed with a computer and Internet service has an enormous opportunity within their economic reach to increase their sales,” Aldridge said. “All they need to do is use the same creative ideas, undaunting adventuresome spirit and hard work that got their business started and growing, and then put them into practice on the worldwide Web. Real entrepreneurs are willing to take new risks. Use it and all the other typical tools of the trade to continue providing a good product with good customer service. Use it to expand your location beyond the four corners of your commercial building, and, as always, advertising pays. Surf up, catch the Internet wave, and your sales will likely be riding higher also.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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